The Zone is not some mystical place or some clever marketing term, but a real physiological state in your body where the initiation and resolution of inflammation is constantly balanced for the goal of maintaining wellness. The question is how do you get into the Zone? The answer is your diet. Wellness is like the top of a mountain. There are many pathways to the top. Some are hard, others are easier. I feel the Zone Diet is the easiest and most scientifically valid way to reach that mountain top.
Follow the Four Pillars of the Zone Diet to Maintain Wellness
There are four basic dietary pillars of the Zone Diet. Each is distinct and follows its own dietary rules. Your goal is to put it all together in a practical diet and maintain it for a lifetime.
1. Restrict calories without hunger or fatigue
Calories do count. The secret is to consume the least number of calories without developing hunger or fatigue.
Eating more calories than your body requires means those excess calories end up being stored as excess fat. As to why you eat more calories than your body needs is another question. Ultimately it is all about the hormones that your diet generates. Generate the wrong hormones, you will develop a Fat Trap in which incoming excess calories are stored in your fat cells and they can’t get out. The result is that you are constantly hungry. I wrote an entire book about this, Toxic Fat, as well as expanding this concept in The Mediterranean Zone(1,2).
The way you avoid developing a Fat Trap is to maintain control of the levels of insulin in both the blood and the brain by your diet. This means you have to prevent the development of insulin resistance, which is ultimately caused by inflammation induced by the diet(3). The usual suspects for excess calories, excess omega-6 fatty acids, excess saturated fat (especially palmitic acid), and disturbances in the ratio of low-fat protein to low-glycemic carbohydrates in any meal is diet-induced inflammation.
1. Excess dietary caloric intake causing oxidative stress.
2. Excess dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids that promote inflammation.
3. Excess dietary intake of the saturated fatty acids, especially palmitic acid, that promote inflammation.
4. Lack of dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids that promote inflammation.
5. Lack of dietary intake of polyphenols to activate anti-oxidative genes to reduce oxidative stress.
6. Lack of dietary intake of polyphenols to promote gut health.
7. Lack of dietary intake of fermentable fiber to promote gut health.
The more of these factors you have in your diet, the more likely you are to have increasing levels of diet-inflammation.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products that help reduce “diet-induced inflammation” are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent any disease.
1. Boden G et al. “Excessive caloric intake acutely causes oxidative stress, GLUT-4 carbonylation, and insulin resistance in healthy men.” Sci Trans Med 7:304 (2015).
2. Patterson E et al. “Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” J Nutr Metab 2012:53942 (2012).
3. Gupta S et al. “Saturated long-chain fatty acids activate inflammatory signaling in astrocytes.” J Neurochem 120:1060-1071 (2012).
4. Simopoulos A. “Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and auto-immune diseases.” J Amer College Nutr 21:495-505 (2002).
5. Rahman I et al. “Regulation of inflammatory and redox signaling by dietary polyphenols.” Biochem Pharmacol 72:1439-1452 (2006).
6. Duda-Chodak A et al. “Interaction of dietary compounds, especially polyphenols, with the intestinal microbiota.” Eur J Nutr 54: 325-341 (2015).
7. Slavin J. “Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits.” Nutrients 5:1417-1435 (2013).
2. Maintain an appropriate balance of inflammatory and resolution pathways within the body
You need some inflammation, but not too much. More importantly, you have to be able to turn off the inflammatory process once it’s started. Otherwise, it will begin attacking the rest of the body. This process is called resolution.
The resolution of inflammation requires adequate levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. The only way to know is to test the blood and specifically your levels of cellular inflammation. If your Cellular Inflammation Score is too high, then you don’t have enough potential resolution capacity to be in the Zone. Most Americans will require supplementation with refined omega-3 fatty acid concentrates, like OmegaRx, to reach the right balance.
3. Activate your genes with dietary polyphenols for improved wellness
Polyphenols allow you to practice gene therapy in the kitchen assuming you are eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. If not, then the genes that produce antioxidant enzymes, anti-inflammatory proteins, and slow down the aging process will essentially remain silent. On the other hand, supplementation of the diet with refined polyphenol extracts, like MaquiRx, can help you reach the levels of polyphenols in the diet to turn on those genes important for maintaining wellness.
4. Control gut microbe-induced inflammation
There are about 1 trillion species of bacteria on the planet. About 1,000 of them live in our gut. And one of them, Akkermansia muciniphila, appears to be key to our gut health. Akkermansia muciniphila was only discovered in 2004(4), yet it appears to play a central role in controlling gut microbe-induced inflammation(5-8). You can’t take a capsule of this bacteria because it dies in the presence of oxygen, but you can feed yourself the right nutrition to make it multiply in the gut. The three dietary items it needs are fermentable fiber, polyphenols, and long chain omega-3 fatty acids. All these are key items in the Zone Diet.
The Zone Diet is life-long nutrition strategy, not a short-term weight-loss diet
We often think of diets as enforced torture to be endured to lose some weight. In reality, the word diet comes from the ancient Greek root meaning “way of life.” Therefore, the Zone Diet is not a weight-loss diet, but a “way of life” to maintain wellness as long as possible.
Nutrition is incredibly complex. There are no easy answers regardless of what you hear from television specials or read in popular diet books. What you need is a credible dietary pathway that is based on strong science and validated by blood testing. That’s the basis of Evidence-based Wellness®. That is also the promise of the Zone Diet and it’s easier than you think once you master its basic principles.
- Sears B. Toxic Fat. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008).
- Sears B. The Mediterranean Zone. Random House. New York, NY (2014).
- Sears B and Perry M. “The role of fatty acids in insulin resistance.” Lipids Health Disease 14:121 (2015).
- Derrien M. “Akkermansia muciniphila, a human intestinal mucin-degrading bacterium”. Int J Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology54: 1469–1476 (2004).
- Schnneeberger M et al. “Akkermansia muciniphila inversely correlates with the onset of inflammation, altered adipose tissue metabolism and metabolic disorders in mice.” Sci Reports 5:16643 (2015).
- Kaliannan K et al. “A host-microbiome interaction mediates the opposing effects f omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids on metabolic endotoxemia.” Sci Reports 5:112276 (2015).
- Roopchand DE et al. “Dietary polyphenols promote growth of gut bacterium Akkermansia muninphila and attenuate high-fat diet-induced metabolic syndrome.” Diabetes 64:2847-2858 (2015).
- Masumoto S et al. “Non-absorbable apple procyandian prevent obesity associated with gut microbial and metabolomics changes.” Sci Reports 6:31208 (2016).